One of the most widespread gynecological conditions in the US is endometriosis. Endometriosis takes its name from endometrial cells found on the inner lining of the uterus, known as the endometrium, which are eliminated during the menstruation period. In the case of endometriosis, these cells attach themselves to other organs and tissues outside the uterus.
The most common locations of endometriosis implants are the ovaries, the outer surface of the uterus, the surface of the intestines, the Fallopian tubes, and the inner surface of the pelvic cavity. These cells can also migrate into the inner body of the uterus, causing chronic pain – especially during menses. As Long Beach gynecologists, we have also seen isolated cases where endometriosis implants were also found in the cervix, vagina, and bladder areas.
We believe it is important to highlight the significant number of women suffering from this condition. Sometimes endometriosis has no symptoms, while other times it may cause severe pain and irregular bleeding. It is estimated that as many as one million women have it in the United States alone. It is further believed that as many as half of the women under treatment for infertility have endometriosis, and up to 80% of the women with chronic pelvic pain could be affected by it.
Although endometrial implants are benign and will not lead to cancer, they usually cause other health problems and are linked to severe, even life-threatening, conditions. Endometriosis is the main cause for pelvic pain in women in the United States, and the main reason women undergo laparoscopic surgery in our country.
In most cases, endometriosis is found in women between 25 and 35 years of age; however, there have been documented cases of girls as young as 11 suffering from it. Very few cases are documented among women past menopause.
The exact cause of endometriosis is not known, but there are a number of factors discovered that increase its likelihood:
- Race unfortunately plays a role, as this condition affects Caucasian women more often than it does any other race.
- If a family member has endometriosis, it predisposes other members of that family to an increased likelihood for also having it. It is not yet clear if this condition is passed through genetics or if this factor occurs because family members share certain traits that favor endometriosis.
- Taller women with a low body mass index have been found to show predilection toward developing this condition.
- It is believed that endometrial cells use the blood or lymph systems to leave the uterus and reach other areas. In the case of a weakened immune system, these cells multiply, creating endometrial implants. Studies have shown that women with endometriosis are more likely to have immunological disorders and certain types of cancer.
- Some specialists surmise that endometrial implants known to cause abdominal scarring means that the cells might have gotten there by mistake during surgery.
- It is also believed that at the origin of some endometrial implants are endometrial cells that have been there since birth.
- Estrogen is also linked to the development of endometrial tissue. There are those in the medical community who believe, for this reason, that this condition could be a problem of the endocrine system.
- Exposure to chemical substances such as dioxin, a toxin used in the making of pesticides, was discovered to correlate with developing endometriosis. Research is struggling to identify the full range of man-made substances that influence the development of this condition.
- In some cases, the endometrial implant is occurs during menstruation, when the endometrial cells travel to the Fallopian tubes into the abdomen, where they can multiply.
Many times, endometriosis may not result in any symptoms; however, it typically results in painful episodes, mainly during menstruation. The pain is felt in the lower abdomen, pelvis area, or lower back area. The presence or absence of symptoms does not depend on the amount of endometrial tissue. It’s quite possible that a woman will experience severe symptoms even if she only has small endometrial growths, while others will not experience any pain despite having larger endometrial implants.
Beside this localized pain, other symptoms which have been documented are:
- Painful menstrual cramps which can get worse with time
- Pain in the pelvic region either during or after sexual intercourse
- Intestinal pain
- Bleeding outside menstrual periods
- Infertility in severe cases
- All sorts of bowel movement issues, including diarrhea and constipation
- Pain during defecation or urination during menstrual periods.
Medical studies in the past years have also found links between this condition and other health issues. Women affected by endometriosis are more likely to encounter problems with:
- Different types of allergies, including asthma and sensitivities to various chemicals
- Diseases in which the body’s immune system attacks the body itself, called autoimmune diseases, such as hypothyroidism or lupus
- Diseases such as fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue syndrome
- Lowered ability of the immune system to fight off infection
- Mitral Valve Prolapse – the valves of the heart do not function as well as they should
- The lowered ability of the immune system to counter germs, viruses, and fungi, leading to frequent yeast infections
- There may also be a connection between this health condition and some forms of cancer – ovarian, endocrine, thyroid, and colon cancer to name a few
Endometriosis is a serious condition which can significantly affect your quality of life. This is why you should talk to one of our gynecologists at any of our various locations at your next visit and inquire about the procedures used to diagnose and treat this health problem.
(You may also be interested in our article on Dysmenorrhea and Birth Control).
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